Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Spectacular Six!

Okay... so am I allowed to brag a bit? Am I allowed to tell you the crazy ways I've been blessed? If not, you have no business reading this post.

However, if so then let me just preface this a bit by saying I have a very unusual Bucket List. I won't bore you with the details but it's extensive and usually involves jumping out of planes, eating wacky foods, and hiking massive mountains.

One long-time item on this list... was to go on a Safari in Africa.

When I priced out the safaris in Kenya, however, I sputtered in surprise and disgust at the thousands of dollars they insisted I pay, and I resigned myself to NEVER seeing the Big Five (Aka: Elephant, Rhino, Leopard, Lion, and Hippopotamus).
          --But then God took me to South Africa.

When I saw that I had a few days between my time in Mozambique and the Pastors and Leaders conference in Cape Town, I looked into going on a quick safari. The prices they quoted me were not only reasonable... they were cheap!

Praise God!

So naturally I signed up. I figured it would be my birthday present... and boy was it!

The first day was a long drive from Johannesburg to Blyde River canyon, then to a fancy lodge just outside of Kruger national park.

My guide, Hoppy, was South African born and raised. He had a knowledge of the animals in this area that could only be described as encyclopedic.

Me at Blyde River canyon. River below. 
If there was a lizard or a bird --let alone any of the big game-- he knew its name and habits. It was extraordinary.

He took me and a honeymoon couple from Brazil through a remarkable ride through one of the world's most extensive national parks.

Kruger national park was founded in 1898 by South Africa's then president, Paul Kruger. The intent was to keep a sanctuary for wildlife from the massive hunting then practiced.

In all, the park is roughly 20,000 square kilometers and is similar to the length and size of Israel (390km long and 100 km wide). 

The Blyde river was pretty but nothing to write home about. We came, took a few pictures, then raced on to the game park.

That first night we stayed in a fancy lodge which arranged a night safari where within minutes we were able to see a crocodile, impalas, wildebeasts, and then a leopard.

The leopard (seen above) was within a few feet of us, lounging in the afternoon sun.


Afterward we came across a pride of lions with five males and five females. I was told that the only reason the males are together are because they are brothers. But once their alpha lion passes, there will be a fight for the ladies... and then three of the brothers will move on to other prides.

We watched as they slept, yawning and stretching from their afternoon nap. Apparently, lions sleep up to twenty hours a day!

Who knew?!

The next morning... we came across some white rhinos as well. They looked unreal! I seriously wanted to go up and touch them just to be certain they weren't in my head. I have dreamed of seeing rhinos up close for so long... I just couldn't believe it!


African White Rhino-- reportedly 3000 live in Kruger but they are being poached.

From there we saw countless baboons, bushbucks, and kudus. I really like the kudus for their regal stance and intricately twisted horns, but I was happy to see the giraffes, zebras, and genets too.

A male Kudu. The females look just like them... but without horns!
Two young male impalas play-fighting.
We saw birds galore (plovers, rollers, starlings, storks, vultures, eagles, etc.). I'd bore you with all the various names of them... but they were spectacular and diverse.

My favorite had to be a toss up between the ostrich and the yellow-billed hornbill (above), which some might recognize as zaza from the Lion King. 

I learned that ostriches don't put their head in the sand. Go figure!
Naturally there were sables, steenboks, waterbucks, and hyenas too. The warthogs always gave me a laugh though.

There is just something so beautiful in a face that ugly!

A warthog with a face only a mother could love!
However my greatest desire was to see a lot of elephants, and boy did I! We were able to watch hoards of them; they walked in front of us nonchalantly eating grass or stripping trees of their new shoots.

My guide frequently complained of the massive damage they do to the park, knocking over trees to eat the roots and generally forging paths through whatever and wherever they liked.

But when you think about it... if a newborn elephant weights 250 kilos, imagine how much the adults weighs. There is little that would be stupid enough get in their way --apparently even hippos don't even mess with them.

They have no predators in the park at all. None.

The hippos were also high on my list of 'to see'. They however, did not find it convenient to come out of the water so I could gaze  on their meaty mass.

This picture (above) was the closest I got to getting a sneak peak. All the rest of my pictures show little brown patches in lakes, with ears attached. They are basically an oversized pig with a water fetish.

The buffalo were everywhere. Herds and herds of them drank at every watering hole. They were majestic... but skittish. We never seemed to be able to get close.

On the last day of the safari, we came across four cheetahs (thus transforming the 'Big Five' into the 'Spectacular Six')!

Since this usually solitary hunter was in a pack, we suspect they were siblings. They were far off in the distance and getting active around some warthogs. At first we thought they had killed one of the warthogs, but was we watched through binoculars we could see that they were the ones being chased!

All four of the cheetahs are in this picture. They are looking at the warthog.
Yep. Four cheetahs were run off by one fiercely protective warthog mama! Man was she mad!


The baboons also gave us lots of laughs. Their playful nature and general appearance was hilarious.

These baboons were Chacma baboons, known for their brightly colored genitalia. The males had blue testes and the females red butts. Apparently, their hind-quarters get brighter when they are ready to mate.



The best part of the trip though... had to be watching the baboons swimming. 

Yes, the usually hydrophobic primates set aside their fears for a few brief minutes and played in a shallow river bed like toddlers in a wading pool! 

Our guide explained that in his 17 years of traipsing through the park, he'd never seen anything like it.


So enjoy this remarkable and unique video:

What a blessing! 

Some of the pictures and the definitely the video are courtesy of my co-adventurers, 
Narcizo Souza-Neto and Daniela Coelh. Thanks for sharing!